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First Water Lower Creek Shuttle, AZ

no permit
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Guide 31 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Superstitions NW
3.6 of 5 by 15
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
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Difficulty 3.5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Shuttle 5.75 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,232 feet
Elevation Gain -300 feet
Avg Time Hiking 5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 6.25
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
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13  2017-04-08
Hackberry Spring from Horse Lot
13  2016-03-05 snakemarks
16  2015-11-07
Hackberry Creeks n Peaks Super Loop
40  2014-07-07
Lower First Water Creek
15  2013-12-28 AZLumberjack
11  2013-04-22 outdoor_lover
22  2013-04-22 BEEBEE
32  2013-03-19 snakemarks
Page 1,  2,  3
Author AZLOT69
author avatar Guides 168
Routes 247
Photos 7,293
Trips 1,818 map ( 15,596 miles )
Age 68 Male Gender
Location Gold Canyon, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Nov, Dec, Jan, Feb → 8 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  6:13am - 6:24pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Culture Nearby
A Diamond in the Rough Superstitions
by AZLOT69

First Water Creek has its origins in the Superstitions and is a major drainage. This will be evident as you observe recent levels obvious by large amounts of debris high on the banks and in the trees. Caution should be used during stormy conditions. Watch for flash flooding. A GPS unit is a great help on this hike to keep you in First Water Creek.

This adventure begins at the horse trailer lot, the first large parking area on the left a couple miles east of SR 88. There is a rest room in the parking lot. Hike east on the road about a hundred yards, to an old jeep road which heads northeast marked "Police Vehicles Only". Take this trail which will lead you down hill by the old remains of First Water Ranch. Continuing past the ranch a trail swings south. At this point the bushwhack begins. Find an opening in the fence, cross into First Water Creek and head north in the creek. Pick and choose your route and follow the creek over smooth rock often pooled with water. As the canyon closes in the boulders get bigger and the cliff sides draw your curiosity to the enclaves and balanced rocks. The creek makes a slight turn to the northeast and you can locate a trail on the right bank. Following this for a short distance brings you to an open area, nice for camping. Hackberry Spring is on your right at the base of the rock face. Hackberry Spring is a reliable source of water year round and is tapped with an iron pipe.

Continue your hike now, heading north but do not follow the foot trail. You want to get back in First Water Creek and head north. Stop and look back occasionally and catch the views. Several Natural Arches(windows) are located on this hike. After several hundred yards, the creek rock hopping gets increasingly hard and you can pick up a trail on the right bank but when the trail veers northeast from the creek, move back into and stay in the creek bed on your left. Hopefully you have a GPS which clearly shows if you are in First Water Creek. From this point on its all creek rock hopping. Many will draw a comparison to Boulder Creek or Upper Fish Creek Canyon hikes. This is on par with those two hikes for scenery but not as difficult or long. The creek meanders north offering spectacular rock formations and views second to none the Superstitions have to offer. Soon a mountain resembling the Matterhorn comes into view. The mountains ahead of you are towering, getting bigger and more colorful as you proceed downstream.

You will encounter some side canyons, that beg for exploring ,intersecting from time to time. If there is water running its easy to determine First Water Creek. Go with the flow of the water. If you look at the side canyons all flow into First Water Creek, headed for Canyon Lake. If the side canyon is going up in altitude, you took the wrong route. The Canyon gets tighter and tighter narrowing to perhaps thirty feet in width with towering cliffs on either side. Arches and House sized boulders are plenty but easy to navigate. Eventually the canyon opens up and THIS WASH ON YOUR LEFT IS YOUR EXIT to return to civilization. At GPS coordinate - N33 32.028 W 111 26.876 - there is a huge rock dead center in the creek bed. You may notice a rock cairn on the right side of this rock(notice because there have been no rock cairns the entire trip). Look at the left bank of the creek at this point. There is a large lichen covered rock on the left bank with a large rock cairn on it also.

You can continue down First water Creek at this point to explore but in less than a half mile you will come to Canyon Lake and the only way out is to have someone pick you up in a boat or swim to the first one way bridge located at Canyon Lake. So, return after exploring to the aforementioned coordinates and start up the wash to the west on the left side of the wash. In about a hundred feet you will pass thru the Wilderness Boundary fence and cross over to the right side of the wash. A few rock cairns will now guide you out of the canyon as the trail crosses back and forth thru the wash up. A short way up you will see power lines and perhaps a car passing on the Apache Trail. As remote as you feel on this trip, in reality you are only a few hundred yards from the Apache Trail the whole time. Unfortunately your wilderness experience is almost complete. Although, there's plenty of daylight left, why not make the return trip. If, however, you are going to call it a day continue to the top and you can catch your ride or shuttle set up in advance because you come out to the pavement at exactly milepost 208, where there is room for several cars to park. Look back to the east at what some people refer to as the "Little Alps".

A special note-in all but the driest time of year you will get wet on this hike. In the narrow gorges you should plan on navigating some waist deep water for a short distance.

Right now seldom seen but destined to be a Superstition Classic.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your canyon trip to support this local community.

2007-12-06 AZLOT69
    WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

    Most recent of 15 deeper Triplog Reviews
    First Water Lower Creek Shuttle
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    Since I was taking my friend and fellow FS Volunteer this time, we were able to set up a shuttle, leaving my Jeep up by Canyon Lake and driving her truck back to First Water. Gearing up at the horse lot, we noticed a large group gathering to hike the same trail we were, so in a rush to get out ahead of them, I left my windbreaker behind in the truck. Wasn't too concerned. I probably wouldn't need it and if I did, I'd just have to tough it out. I need to be less of a wimp, anyway.

    When we got to the creek, we were amazed at how long the water levels have been holding out there and still flowing. I was crossing my fingers that the waterfall spot near the end would be passable and we wouldn't have to turn around and hike all the way back, defeating the whole purpose of the shuttle. You can't really predict this in advance, so you just have to take your chances.

    For the first half of the hike, there was plenty of water, but it diminished quickly after that and when we reached the waterfall it was bone dry. At the bottom of it, the water magically reappeared and continued down the canyon. This is where the scenery kicks it into high gear. After a short trek through a fantasy landscape, you reach the slot, where it's time to go for a swim. Water was C-O-L-D and over our heads. We put the packs in a big dry sack and took the plunge. Dry sack from Walmart gets an A+.

    The trail going up out of the canyon is a bit sketchy at first, but it quickly improves. As we got near the top, my friend commented on how perfect everything went and I had to admit this was one of my better trips - weather was ideal, my route finding was spot on (rare), nobody was bleeding (also rare), the rattlesnake I nearly stepped on wasn't in the mood to engage (lucky), we got all the way through and made pretty good time. Instead of basking in the glory of my success, alarm bells were going off in my head and I could feel some kind of dread slowly rising. Smooth, incident-free adventures are just not how I roll (unfortunately) and we still weren't home yet. I knew something was going to go wrong and the only thing left was the Jeep ride back.

    Reaching the top, I was relieved to see that the Jeep was still there. I was half expecting it to be gone. The dread is still building and I stood there just looking at the Jeep and waiting for the punchline... and then I got it. Before I even unzipped my pack, I knew my keys weren't in it. They were in the pocket of my windbreaker in my friends truck back at First Water. (Now, that's more like it!)

    Time to hitch a ride. That should be a cinch, because who wouldn't want to pick up two quasi-damp, tough looking women with wet, sandy shoes? We didn't bother the snowbirds coming back from Tortilla Flat, but kept our eyes pealed for other hikers or a local with a pick-up truck we could jump into the back of. Within 10 minutes, we got our hiker... a college age guy recently from Texas. He had done some decent hikes in the Supes, so we all had a lot to talk about on the way back to First Water. He was working off a crummy map in a hiking guidebook, so my friend gifted him with a really good map of the Superstition Wilderness. We said he could drop us off at the beginning of the road, but he was kind enough to drive us down to the horse lot. Really nice kid. Thanks, man - you rock!
    First Water Lower Creek Shuttle
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    Hackberry Creeks n Peaks Super Loop
    With the good weather, Joe put together a route in the western Superstitions, to cover some areas we hadn't been to before. Chilly and windy to start, I was shocked that there were so few cars in the First Water TH.

    We made our way to the Overflow/horse lot and hopped the rail to get on an unofficial well used "Use" trail making it's way up to First Water Creek. It's an easy hike to get to Hackberry Spring. There are a few nice camp sites close to the spring that has a nice clear collection pool currently.

    Continuing up First Water, travel was still easy and scenic. 4 miles in, we headed east up and unnamed canyon to gain the summit of one of the twin peaks to about 2730' We had a different perspective of the Wilderness from up here. The air was crisp, and clear making the views special. The wind was blowing around 30mph and in this video I actually had my thumb over the microphone.

    :next: ... 7WJU

    Down the east side of the peaks, then SE into what I'm calling Cholla Tank Canyon. When travel got thick in this canyon, we hopped out to the NE.

    It was here, when Joe and I were walking about 8' apart, that he stopped dead in his tracks. On the edge of the volcanic scree was a Backpack, waist pack, and shirt. These had all been sitting here for sometime. Based on the decay, we were guessing 3 - 5 years. We went through the packs looking for some Id. A Swiss army knife, sun screen, sandals, shirt, sweeter, jacket, tent w/ poles, inflatable sleeping pad, and a recreational glass pipe. Absent were any electronics, sleeping bag, and any identification. We did a cursory walk around the area for any other signs, with nothing found. When I got home, i gave the location and info to SAR. They said they were going to send a crew out to check it out and let me know what else they found.

    We checked out Cholla Tank, then made our way to the top of Hackberry Mesa for some views and lunch. Hackberry Butte was the next little climb on the list. This would take us above the area where we passed Hackberry Spring earlier.

    After this point Joe promised stuff that never materialized. An enjoyable day in some new areas of the Supes for me.
    First Water Lower Creek Shuttle
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    This hike hit me in a flash last night so I didn't have time to set up a shuttle and made it just a down & back type. Got a bright and early start and it was a bit chilly at 0700 so glad I had a light jacket on for the first part of the trip.

    Left from the Horse Trailer parking lot on First Water Road, only a couple of vehicles in the big lot at this hour but had the trails all to myself. There were some high clouds so I was hoping for some good sunrise photos but although there was good color, there wasn't much detail, oh well that's the way it goes.

    Once in the Hackberry Spring area I came across several teens and an adult that had spent the night and were warming up by a campfire, said they had a great night. I continued on through the camping areas then down to the creek where the water was flowing at a low rate, but it still sounds good as you're walking through the rocks.

    Still some autumn color along the creek but it won't last much longer as the light breeze was taking the leaves off the trees and blowing them around. Found lots of large pools filled to capacity and flowing as I made my way down the creek, had to jump across on the boulders but never got my feet wet :D

    Wanted to make it to Canyon Lake then turn around but at the 3-1/2 mile mark I heard a lot really a lot of gunfire from somewhere up ahead. Someone was shooting the heck out of a semi-auto and wasting ammo like it was a war zone :scared: so I thought this was a good time to turn around and make my return trip. Once back in the Hackberry Spring area it was like someone opened the doors and let everyone in all at once, the place was crowded and they were still coming.

    Had a good time today in spite of the shooters and the crowds, the flash floods of Sept knocked down a lot of the brush and made for a good trail without getting tangled up in the catsclaw. Gotta try this one again but with a shuttle and hopefully not shooters :)
    First Water Lower Creek Shuttle
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    Brian had a rare day off and wanted to Hike. Since my Hike yesterday got cancelled, I set up a plan. Been wanting to do this one for awhile, and since there were two of us, we could actually go ahead and set up the Shuttle... :) Besides, with the heat, we were hoping to find a good swimming hole... :D Well.... :sweat:

    We got the Shuttle set up and took off from the Horse Lot. Got down to First Water Creek in good time and found quite a bit of Water still. It was just a Trickle, but lots of nice, clear Pools. Got around to the Spring and took a small break, just enjoying the morning and the deep shade. Continued on basically following the Garden Valley Loop Trail until it was time to hit the Creek full time. In this upper section there was lots of cool Slick Rock areas with trickling Water Flows.

    And then the Boulder Hopping began in earnest, but we still made good time. Started getting pretty warm out and then the Water basically disappeared. Encountered a few deeper Pools from time to time, but they were pretty green and stagnant. As the Canyon started to narrow, we were hoping to find a little more Water, but basically it just didn't happen. Then the Canyon tightened up some more and the Boulders got much bigger and we had to slow down some and find a way around some spots. Took a Lunch Break under a huge Boulder Overhang with some nice shade. By now, it was getting really warm. That was going to change.... :sweat:

    Finally hit THE SPOT.... :sweat: You either turn around here and go back the way you came, or you get wet. We weren't turning around after being almost 5 miles in. Brian went first (can you say "Guinea Pig"? :sl: ) The Water was chest high on him, so I was beginning to wonder if I was literally going to have to swim... :sweat: Waterproofed the Camera as best I could, and Brian came back and stuck my pack over his head, as he could "wade" through. The deepest spot was just about Neck high on me... :sweat: The Water was a little chilly, but felt pretty good actually. It was not a "prime swimming hole" by any means, but the Water wasn't green and nasty either, so it was good! :)

    After regrouping a bit, we continued on, going around, up and over more large Boulders and then it opened up a little and we hit the bailout point. It's a pretty nice little Trail going up that Canyon to the vehicle... :) Got to Brian's car and went back to the Horse Lot and got mine. Then it was time for Margaritas and Mexican at La Casita in AJ.

    It was a good Hike, but probably won't do this one so late in the season again. It was too late. This would have been much better with more Water Flow throughout, we missed it probably by a month. You just have to time it right to where there's good Water, but since you're going to get wet, you don't freeze your :pk: off. This was probably awesome in March, first part of April.... :) Will keep this one in mind for the future, even if it's just an out and back part of the way... :)
    First Water Lower Creek Shuttle
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    I didn't have a shuttle, so I hiked this out and back.

    This route has been seeing a lot more travel than it used to, as evidenced by the beaten path with many footprints, which gradually disappeared as I went farther down the creek until mine were the only ones visible. I was prepared to swim through the narrows, but I turned around at the boulder choked bend just ahead of that. My way around this would have sent me through a good stretch of tall grasses and heavy vegetation and I was reluctant to do that with the snakes out and about. I noticed a cave-like feature in the rock above, so I climbed up to investigate. It turned out to be a tunnel, of sorts, with a big (man-sized) gap to look down at (or fall into :scared: ) the creek far below and a bigger opening up ahead looking out the other side and over a cliff. It was easy enough to get up there, but once inside, it was not for the squeamish. Very cool.

    There was plenty of water most of the way with some pools deep enough to dunk yourself, if you wanted or, in my case, even if you didn't want. Wading through some deep water, a misstep on the slippery rocks resulted in a splashdown on my butt... with my camera in my back pocket. :pk: I was thinking... Well, OK, this one lasted 4 whole years, but I was happy to discover that its claim to be waterproof was actually true (at least to the depth of 1 foot for 3 seconds). :GB:

    In spite of how busy it's become out there, I didn't see a single person ALL DAY until I got back to the truck. :y:
    First Water Lower Creek Shuttle
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    After working at the trailhead in the morning, I thought I'd hike down First Water Creek to check out the water conditions. It had been two days since the rain and there was still some snow melting on the back side of the mountain. I only hiked out 3 miles, but I wasn't as inspired as I hoped I'd be. Still, it was nice to see some water out there.
    First Water Lower Creek Shuttle
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    When I woke up the temperature was right at freezing, the sky looked clear and the forecast was for a high of about 60. Figured it was a perfect day for a hike, even better an exploration hike. This is when I hike all the side trails I've passed by on other hikes. I started out at 7AM from first water TH heading north to the old road just before the horse lot. Shortly after the First Water Ranch buildings I found a small trail heading east over the yellow hills that I had never tried, no idea if this area has a name, it's outside the Superstition Wilderness area. After wandering for only about a mile I was on a steep hill coming back down into First Water Creek, near Hackberry Spring. I had never tried taking First Water Creek all the way to Canyon Lake, so I figured today was the day. After all the rock rollin' and boulder balancin' I was happy to be turning around as soon as the lake appeared. I didn't have a shuttle, so I had to retrace my steps. The canyon and surrounding peaks are very interesting to see. Including what must be Arizona's version of a alien crop circle, see attached picture.

    From there I got on Hackberry trail back to Second Water trail at the Black Mesa intersection. I remembered a hike I had read a year ago about getting to second water canyon. Couldn't remember many details except having to go through all the teddy bear cactus at the highest point on the Black Mesa Trail. So that was my next task. I was holding my breath so much going through all the cactus that I'm glad I didn't pass out, not a good place to fall. Then up over the black rock wall, and what do I find a cactus mine field. Almost every square yard had a cholla of one kind or another, and those that didn't had a large prickly pear. Spent about half an hour picking my way through this without seeing anything like a trail or a canyon, so I left. There weren't even game trails. The cactus was so thick probably even the jacks stayed out of it.

    By the time I got back to the trail I figured it was time to be heading back to civilization. I had only run into 2 other people in the whole hike. A very light day for the First Water TH. Was a great day for a hike.
    First Water Lower Creek Shuttle
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    No shuttle; did this out and back from the horse lot straight north along various cowboy trails on the high ridges overlooking the creek and coming back down entering just before the spring - out to my turn around point just ahead of the mandatory full swim near the end.

    It was perfect weather for this hike. I spent more than half of the time wading, but it felt more refreshing than cold. Last year when I did this one with Bruce, there was hardly any water until we got to the very end, even though it was still a full swim to get out. But, this time it was a river all the way. I'd forgotten how beautiful this route was, even more so with flowing water, and I wished I didn't have to turn back when I did. The best part was just ahead, but it would have taken me another hour in that section just to add that last 1/10th mile. But, I had known that would be the deal going into it and decided that taking trip would be worth it, anyway. It was!

    This is another fabulous hike that seems largely overlooked, although, I was surprised to see a single set of fresh footprints going out on the same route. I was continually amazed that without trying to follow them, as they were only visible in spots, we both took identical paths all the way, going in and out of the creek in the same exact places. Either, my route finding skills have gotten a lot better, or there's someone else running around alone out there that ought to have supervision! :sl: There were no prints coming back from the other direction and I didn't notice any bodies lying around, so maybe hitching is making a comeback. When I got close to the end and wanted to keep going, I actually considered it. But, I wasn't planning on doing the full swim so I didn't bring floatation for my gear. Besides, who would want a soaking wet, sand covered stranger jumping into their car? And, riding back in the bed of a pick-up truck just wasn't appealing.

    The trip out took me 5 hours, but that included the extra time needed to avoid getting wet during the early morning chill, two twenty minute breaks and taking most of my photos (since I would be facing the sun all the way back). I made the return trip in 3 hours, including 2 stops to take off my boots and rinse the sand and rocks out of them. * Yes, Angela... I'm finally taking your advice and double tie-ing them now ;) , and what a pain to untie when they're wet! (She would have to constantly inform me that my shoe was coming untied and make me stop and fix it, saying she didn't think she could carry me very far if I fell and broke something! :lol: )

    I didn't see anyone else all day. :y: I just love this place!
    First Water Lower Creek Shuttle
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    I didn't do the shuttle hike but I did start from the northern TH/parking area and dropped into lower First Water Creek to explore the canyon while its flowing pretty good. At first I hiked/waded downstream until it becomes part of the lake and then I turned around and hiked upstream about a mile where there's some sweet narrows section with some small falls and some nice pools to wade thru or bypass. :D
    First Water Lower Creek Shuttle
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    I've been curious about this one for a long time. AZLOT69 was kind enough to give me a guided tour.

    It starts off easy enough and becomes more complicated as the canyon closes in. The difficulty of this hike is directly dependent on how much water is flowing. Having been here several times, Bruce was amazed at how dry it was now. He had never seen it like this. As a result, it was no problem staying dry until we came to the narrowest part of the canyon.

    Going around the bend, the water level was anywhere from waist to chest high with a 10 foot section that was over our heads. The canyon walls are sheer and smooth and there are no handholds... you have to swim it. Everything in my pack was in ziplock bags, but as it was, it would have pulled me under. So, I 'inflated' it to some degree by filling all the bags with air and then I put the whole pack inside a plastic garbage bag to keep it from taking on much water. I pushed it ahead of me while I swam through the deepest section. It worked very well, although it took a while to set up that way. In retrospect, I would suggest an inflatable 'donut' would do the trick much quicker.

    The scenery on this hike was just outstanding! Because so much of the creek bed was dry, we were able to see rocks that are nearly always submerged. I thought I had seen every type of rock there is in the Supes, but there were some here that were like no others I've seen before... beautiful orange and white striped boulders. They were in the shade when we passed through that area and photos were hard to get.

    It looks like the water level is typically about 6 feet higher and having seen what would be under it, I imagine getting through here could be quite treacherous in fast moving water over submerged boulders. The conditions on this day were about as user-friendly as they could be, but this is not typical for this time of year. Higher waters are a much greater risk here, so this is not a trip to take lightly, as the possibility of having to turn back in the interest of safety when you are almost at the end does exist. I was lucky to have the opportunity to see this. Thanks, Bruce!

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To Horse Lot Trailhead
    From Mesa follow Highway 60 East to Idaho Road. Turn North onto Idaho Road which is SR88 and follow North 2.2 miles. SR88 bends right just past Scenic St. and Idaho continues North. Be sure to go right and stay on SR88. Follow SR88 5.2 miles to the signed turnoff for First Water Trailhead, this is FR-78. Turn right on to FR-78 and follow 2.1 miles to the huge parking area on the left surrounded by horse rails.

    From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 42.6 mi - about 57 mins
    From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 136 mi - about 2 hours 15 mins
    From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 187 mi - about 3 hours 1 min
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